Retalls (30.6.19)

(…) His father, Stanley, had been one of the first British bureaucrats appointed to work at the European Commission after the United Kingdom joined the bloc, in 1973. Johnson, his parents, and his three younger siblings moved to Belgium when he was nine years old, joining a sleepy community of expats. Johnson was a clever boy. He learned to speak French without an accent. (...) At first, Johnson was lost. He had been fired from his first job in journalism, at the Times of London, for making up a quote about Edward II’s relations with a boy, which he had attributed to his godfather, an Oxford don. Johnson was disorganized and had few reporting skills. But he had a knack for comedy and a genius for spotting a counter-narrative. (...) Six months after he arrived in Brussels, Johnson began to churn out sly, exaggerated stories that cast the European project as bureaucratically insane. Snails were to be designated as fish, he wrote. Berlaymont, the European Commission’s headquarters, was to be blown up. Condom sizes were to be standardized. “The E.C. has dismissed Italian plans for a maximum condom width of fiftyfour millimetres,” Johnson reported in the Telegraph on May 8, 1991. (...) Johnson’s stories caused a sensation. His British rivals were ordered to find and replicate them, which they failed to do, because there was rarely anything there. He was a figure, almost, of self-parody. He drove a battered red sports car. His clothes had holes in them. He turned up late at press conferences and spoke deliberately bad French. European officials had no idea what to do with him. “We answer his attacks,” one said. “But the problem is that our answers are not funny.” (…)